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Context: In India, snake prone villages or areas where snakebite deaths are common, people use phenol (carbolic acid) in a commercially prepared liquid solution beside the home and doorways. The form is usually drop or a moistened bit of cotton. Many believe it repels snakes and keeps them out of the house. It also part of a long tradition.

For notability, the following article notes this as a given.

Phenol (carbolic acid) is one of the oldest antiseptic agents. Apart from being used in many commercially available products, in rural India, it is often used in the household to prevent snake infestation.
Acute carbolic acid poisoning: A report of four cases

Is there any study that shows carbolic acid actually repels snakes, meaning, can keep them out of an area effectively? I'm not talking about accidental burns on a snake's skin, which seems quite improbable to occur from just few drops.

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    We usually require a link to a "notable" source making the claim. People not in India are probably unaware of phenol's extensive use as a snake repellent. I found the following article that studies phenol poisoning and notes as a given that this practice is common in India. That's notable enough for me.
    – user11643
    Sep 4, 2019 at 19:59
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    Further notability, conflicting answers on Yahoo
    – user11643
    Sep 4, 2019 at 20:33

1 Answer 1

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There is scant evidence that there is such a thing as a snake repellent, and Phenol is not it.

A decidedly western source from 1970s does not list Phenol as a supposed repellent, but decries the general lack of actual repellents.

A patent from 1999 mentions only one preexisting repellent ('Dr.T's'), containing Naphthalene and Sulfur as active ingredients. The patent itself proposes essential oils with a strong smell.

Papers are witten on the efficacy of the naphthalene and other smelly repellents, and are generally negative (small effect if any, restricted to specific species)

A fact sheet citing literature comes to the conclusion that there is no known repellent, althought the list does not explicitly contain Phenole

Several potential home remedies were evaluated to determine if they would repel black rat snakes. Treatments tested included gourd vines, moth balls, sulfur, cedar oil, a tacky bird repellent, lime, cayenne pepper spray, sisal rope, coal tar and creosote, liquid smoke, artificial skunk scent, and musk from a king snake (they eat other snakes) (San Julian and Woodward 1985). None of these remedies repelled black rat snakes.

A work finally recognizing some Asian influences (Japan...) also finds no clear repellent

A study from India with severe methodological problems finds some efficacy for some oils from plants (they were looking at the possible value of known home remedies), though they do not even mention any belief in Phenol.

Another study from India, this time with more problems than redeeming qualities discusses basil as an effective repellen, again no mention of Phenole

Actually, there is a wealth of papers from India investigating the snake repellent properties of one or the other plant, often coming to the conclusion that they do work fine, never explaining why snakes are still such a problem.

This Australian paper seems to look into the Phenol-belief (in terms of tracing it, not testing it), but it is access-restricted

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